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emotional connection. Thus, the piano lesson becomes a source of conflict. Similarly, in the play, the issue of selling the piano drives the plot forward. Berniece and Boy Willie are both resolute in their decisions regarding the piano. Berniece never plays the piano as she does not want to “wake them spirits” (70). The instrument reminds her of past afflictions, including her father’s tragic death after he takes the piano from Sutter’s house, her great grandfather Papa Charles’s delicate carvings that are sold for money by his owner, and of course, the history of slavery on Sutter’s land. However, she remains steadfast in keeping it, because the piano is both an heirloom, which carries a solemn family history, and a repository for her sentiments: fear, nostalgia, vulnerability, and sorrow. Compared to Berniece, Boy Willie is more pragmatic. He tries to persuade his sister to sell the idle piano so that he can buy Sutter’s land, thus regaining their history by physically possessing it. He puts himself into his father’s shoes, feeling indignation at being belittled by white men, in his statement, “If he had something under his feet that belonged to him he could stand up taller” (92). To Boy Willie, buying the land is the best solution to heal the wound of his ancestors. The disagreement is resolved when the struggle between Sutter’s ghost and Boy Willie causes Berniece to play the piano. Although the painting’s conflict seems more ambiguous than that of the drama, they both spring from only a piano. While the painting highlights the relationship between only two characters, the play takes on the complicated connections in a family and beyond. Even though Berniece’s adverse family history emphasizes racial inequality, the camaraderie among blacks, like that between Boy Willie and Lymon, serves as a source of warmth. They drive together from Mississippi all the way to Pittsburgh to sell watermelons and ultimately the piano. When the car breaks down twice in West Virginia, they collaborate to get through their predicaments. Lymon says, “Boy Willie have his door open and be ready to jump when that happens” (3). The intimacy between African Americans is also presented by Avery, a preacher eager to establish his own church. He tries to help Berniece overcome her psychological trauma by encouraging her, “Come on, play ‘Old Ship of Zion.’ Walk over here and claim it as an instrument of the Lord. You can walk over here right now to make it into a celebration” (71). Avery rests his hopes for a better life on his religious belief and thus is rescued from the cruel reality. Finally, the supernatural spirit, like an adhesive between each struggling entity, connects African Americans to a profound degree. Relationships based on lineage, company, and mutual beliefs serve as a solid foundation of the society in the play. August Wilson grasps the characteristics of the chaotic setting in the painting by utilizing the conflict involving the piano and the well-established relationships within the AfricanAmerican community. While Bearden exemplifies the language of collage in his era through the dramatic use of colors, shapes, and space, Wilson translates this visual representation into a play in his mode and adds complexity to the Black experience during the Great Migration.


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Profile for The Gunnery

Stray Shot 2017  

Stray Shot 2017